Monday, May 31, 2010

The Recipe for Ohio State's Offensive Success: Large Servings of Boom and Zoom

Grant Freking—Featured Contributor

They say a man's best friend is a loyal, well-trained dog.

In baseball, a pitcher's best friend is a well-timed double play.

In football, a quarterback's best friend is an effective running game.

Think about it. If the thoroughbreds in the backfield are busting through the holes in the interior of the offensive line or hitting the corner, and advancing the ball up the sideline, the defense has to take notice.

Seven men in the box becomes eight or nine. The safeties start to cheat closer to the line of scrimmage. Linebackers become more vulnerable to the play-action pass.

It’s a recipe for success for the quarterback—which is why Ohio State’s running back tandem of Daniel “Boom” Herron and Brandon “Zoom” Saine is so important, not only to the success of the Ohio State offense, but to the development of quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

If Pryor is to take a step, or in some people’s eyes, a leap forward in 2010, Boom and Zoom have to be effective at running the rock.

There were times last season where OSU couldn’t really do anything right on offense. Some people blame it on:

A) Pryor

B) The lack of a steady starting five on the offensive line.

C) Boom and Zoom

D) The play-calling of Tressel, and offensive coordinator Jim Bollman.

I like to think it’s a combination of, E), all the above. Here are my responses to the first four:

A) It’s no secret Pryor struggled at times last year. He was trying to find his place in the offense, and I like to think he finally got comfortable in the Rose Bowl.

B) The two unequivocal truths about the offense last year were that the offensive line was saddled with injuries, and they received inconsistent play from some of its members. That should not be an issue this year.

C) I’ll concede that even if one put Boom and Zoom together, they probably would not amount to Beanie Wells, and neither is as talented as Antonio Pittman. But combined, they keep defenses honest. Zoom is a tough-as-nails runner between the tackles, and is also a pretty gifted receiver out of the backfield.

D) I was a huge critic of The Vest post-USC. I couldn’t fathom why the offense wasn’t more aggressive in that game. But by the end of the season, Tressel had again silenced his critics. He always knows what he’s doing.

It won’t all be on Boom and Zoom this year. Jordan Hall, Jamaal Berry, Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith give the Buckeyes immeasurable depth at running back that they haven’t had in years, if ever.

Last year, Zoom had 145 carries for 739 yards, and four scores. Boom carried the ball 153 times for 600 yards, and seven touchdowns. I expect slightly increased production out of both this season.

That will take a lot of the pressure off of Pryor, allowing him to throw with confidence, which will in turn gives OSU a balanced offense—and a balanced offense is a play-caller’s best friend.

Who calls OSU’s plays? Tressel mainly—It ends with him.

But it starts with Boom and Zoom.

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Will Terrelle Pryor Follow in Troy Smith's Footsteps at Ohio State?

By Will Frasure—Featured Contributor

Terrelle Pryor’s Rose Bowl performance against the Oregon Ducks looked eerily similar to that of another former Buckeye QB in a BCS bowl game.

In 2006, Troy Smith led a bludgeoning over the Notre Dame defense, throwing for 342 yards en route to a 34-20 victory over the Irish.

Momentum from the game carried over into the next season—Smith led Ohio State to the national title game and took home the Heisman Trophy.

Will a great BCS performance lead to the same for Pryor?

Judging by what fans are saying after the Buckeyes’ spring practices, the answer would appear to be yes. After Pryor threw 37 times in his dominating performance against Oregon (nine more attempts than his previous season high), coach Jim Tressel has let him take the reins of the offense during spring ball

Pryor, although he has always had great confidence, has appeared more comfortable at the quarterback position this spring, which bodes well for the season. His success against Oregon proved what Pryor could do when he isn’t hesitant, a huge confidence-builder carrying over to this year.

The biggest problem with Pryor last season was his indecisiveness. Pryor may have great speed and scrambling ability, but he also has a rocket arm. If he can stay in the pocket and deliver the ball to his receivers, the quarterback can turn into the dangerous weapon Ohio State envisioned when he first touched down in Columbus.

Smith was always known as a scrambler before his Heisman year, but he became calmer in the pocket his senior year, which led to his success. The same can happen with Pryor.

Tressel has always been known for his conservative play-calling, but if there was ever a year for “The Vest” to break away from his ways, this would be the year.

The Buckeyes return nine offensive starters. Brandon Saine has proven he is a dangerous pass-catching threat out of the backfield, and the emergence of Jake Stoneburner as a hybrid tight end/receiver gives Pryor another target. Tressel loosened things up the most he ever has at Ohio State during Smith's Heisman.

Expect an even bigger step this next season.

Signs point to an explosive offense for Ohio State, but what if Pryor doesn’t show progress? What if he has an early game like his abysmal Purdue game last season? If the past gives us any indication, Tressel is going to make the offense more conservative, like he always has at Ohio State. He’ll rely on his outstanding defense and won’t get creative with the offense, a la Iowa last season.

With the inconsistency Pryor has shown in the past, it’s not unreasonable to think he’ll resort to his old ways in 2010.

But after seeing such great progress against the Ducks, expectations about Pryor are ridiculously high. Against what is supposed to be the best spread offense in the land, Pryor thoroughly outdid Jeremiah Masoli and the rest of Oregon’s spread attack.

He showed what everyone had been expecting when he signed with the Buckeyes

With all the talent returning, along with the progress he’s shown, it’s not crazy to think Pryor can bring home the Heisman Trophy like Smith did in 2006.

Like Smith, his journey to the Heisman may have started during his bowl game the year before.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Best of the Vest: The 10 Greatest Wins of the Jim Tressel Era

It's almost hard to believe that Jim Tressel is entering his 10th season as head coach of The Ohio State Buckeyes this coming season.

During that span, there have been many big wins, but also some not-so-pleasant, soul-crushing losses as any die-hard Buckeye follower can tell you.

The expectations that the Buckeye Nation places upon their team, and ultimately Coach Tressel, are always high.

That often includes frustration and criticism from fans of his patented "Tressel-ball" style, which has led to some of the most excruciating losses of his tenure.

As much as some fans complain about Tressel at times, it makes one wonder if they don't need to step back and take a look at the big picture.

It's hard to argue against the man when considering the resume he has put together--bringing Ohio State their first national title in football in over 30 years, three BCS title game appearances, flat-out owning the Buckeyes hated rival Michigan, all amounting to a record of 94-21.

Of those 94 wins, I have selected the 10 best, and .

Number 10

The 2004 Fiesta Bowl pitted No. 8 and Big 12 Champion Kansas State (11-3) against No. 6 Ohio State (10-2).

The Wildcats, who were on a seven-game winning streak, the latest a 35-7 pounding of then-No. 1 and unbeaten Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game, were expected by many of the "experts" to defeat the Buckeyes.

Buckeye QB Craig Krenzel and the Ohio State defense had other plans.

Krenzel, who finished his Ohio State career 24-3 as a starter, matched his career high with four touchdown passes, and the top-ranked rushing defense in the country held All-American Darren Sproles to a season-low 38 yards on 13 carries and quarterback Ell Roberson to just 20/51 passing for 294 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception.

Although the final score (35-28) seemed close, the actual game was never that close until Ohio State, leading 35-14 in the fourth quarter, pulled most of their defensive starters.

In true Jim Tressel fashion, the Buckeyes "held on" for the "W".

A win is a win is a win, right?

Number Nine

From 1988 to 2000 under John Cooper, Ohio State went a dismal 2-10-1 vs. Michigan in "The Game" and Cooper sealed his fate when he said the annual rivalry was just another game.

Enter Jim Tressel.

After winning four I-AA national titles at Youngstown State, the former Buckeye assistant and homegrown "Ohio boy" (unlike Cooper) was hired over Glen Mason, and the rest to date, as they say, has been history.

Also unlike Cooper, Tressel immediately placed special emphasis on the rivalry.

On January 18th, 2001 during halftime of a home Ohio State basketball game, coincidentally against Michigan, Tressel made a very bold statement to the Buckeye fans in attendance, and I quote:

"I can assure you that you'll be proud of our young people—in the classroom, in the community, and most especially, in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan on the football field."

Talk about setting an accurately prophetic tone.

That fall in Ann Arbor, Ohio State (6-4) was unranked and the Wolverines (8-2) were ranked 11th.

After building a 23-0 halftime lead behind running back Jonathan Wells, the Bucks withstood Michigan's comeback bid to secure a 26-20 victory, their first win in Michigan over the Wolverines in 14 years.

It's as if Michigan was Charlie Root and Tressel was Babe Ruth. He called his shot in January then, true to his words, hit it out of the park in November.

Number Eight

In what was an otherwise disappointing 2004 season, Ohio State (6-4) was once again unranked entering the Michigan game. The Wolverines (9-1) were ranked No. 7, their then-only loss coming early in the season to Notre Dame.

Led by QB Troy Smith and WR Ted Ginn, the underdog Buckeyes posted a 20-14 halftime lead against heavily-favored Michigan.

Smith tossed two touchdowns and passed for 241 yards and also ran for 145 yards and a score, while Ginn set a school and conference record with his fourth punt return for a touchdown as the Buckeyes coasted to a 37-21 victory, Tressel's third in four meetings.

Former Buckeye Maurice Clarett had made his false "money for nothing, academic fraud, and free car" accusations against Tressel and the University during the 2004 season.

With that cloud hanging over the program, and with several unexpected losses prior to the UM game, Buckeye Nation needed this one badly to salvage the season, and once again, The Vest delivered on and off the field. He, and the University were cleared by the NCAA of any wrongdoing.

Number Seven

Last year, after a hard=to-swallow loss at home to USC (after which, many fans were calling for Tressel's head on a platter) and the stunning road loss to Purdue (after which many fans were calling for a change at QB), the Buckeyes could have thrown in the towel.

Instead, Coach Tressel tightened the leash on Terrelle Pryor and shifted the emphasis back to what he does best in a pinch—Tressel-ball, i.e. a strict ball control offense, the field position edge, reliable special teams play, and great defense.

The No. 16 Buckeyes (7-2) headed to Happy Valley to face the No. 11 Penn State Nittany Lions (8-1). Penn State, who's only loss was a 21-10 defeat at home to unbeaten Iowa, was still clearly favored by the media and even the doomsday "fans" of the Buckeyes.

Many cocky and classless Penn State fans all but predicted a massacre and had planned to distribute "Terrelle Cryer" t-shirts for the students to wear during the "whiteout."

As it turned out, Terrelle and company would come away smiling and victorious, and Penn State would be left saddened, dazed and confused.

Pryor, who is from Western Pennsylvania, accounted for three scores in one of the best games of his Buckeye career, while PSU's veteran QB Daryll Clark, who hails from Eastern Ohio, had one of his worst against the Buckeye's smothering defense.

It was sweet revenge for Pryor and Ohio State, as Penn State had snapped a 30 year losing streak in Columbus a year earlier when Pryor lost a fumble on an ill-advised ad-lib, which that led to the game's only touchdown and ultimately, the win for PSU.

Number Six

In only the fifth meeting ever between two of college football's most storied programs, No. 4 Ohio State (9-2) and No. 5 Notre Dame (9-2) met in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl.

Former New England Patriots offensive coordinator turned college coach Charlie Weis and his high-scoring Irish led by Ohio-born Brady Quinn were seeking Notre Dame's first bowl win since the 1993 Cotton Bowl.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Buckeyes were looking to push their BCS bowl game record to a perfect 4-0.

It was Troy Smith, not Brady Quinn, who shined as the best QB from Ohio on this day.

And it was Tressel who outcoached first year coach Charlie Weis as the Buckeyes romped Notre Dame 34-20, sending the seemingly "fightless" Irish to their eighth strait bowl loss.

The outcome of the game was never really in doubt. The stingy Ohio State defense, led by AJ Hawk contained Quinn, and conversely, the Irish defense had no answer for Smith, RB Antonio Pittman, or WR's Ted Ginn and Santonio Holmes.

In closing
(for now)

The theme established here should be clear—Tressel wins a lot, recruits tons of talented NFL-caliber players, has owned Michigan twice so far in this top 10, and is not concerned with being flashy while doing it.

In the end as stated above, a win is a win is a win.

I hope you enjoyed looking back at the bottom half of this top 10, and I'm very excited to be bringing you Part II soon.

I promise that it is coming in the very near future so check back often and thanks for visiting Block-O-Nation.

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ohio State Football 2010 Season Forecast: Sunny And Successful, Part II

I have been a little busy lately with work, and the birth of my second daughter on April 27th, so I haven't had any real free time to do much with the blog, or to just touch base with my "millions" of fans...

Until today!

Please, hold your applause until the end...

So anyway, I began a three-part series back in mid-April entitled Ohio State Football 2010 Season Forecast: Sunny And Successful, and am glad to FINALLY bring you Part II.

Part I didn't even have anything to do with Michigan, since as you know, "The Game" is the last game of the year for both teams, and yet I still managed to take a few shots at scUM in Part I.

Here's to doing my best to repeat that performance in this installment! And by the way, here's a link just in case you missed Part I of this series.

Just a reminder—Nobody can guarantee for sure how the 2010 season will play out, and it is only mid-May—several months before the games will actually be played—but if you want a general idea of how it might all go down before then, you can read this article and settle for some of my best educated guesswork in the meantime.

So without further delay, onward to Part II...

Game Five @ Illinois—October 2, 2010

The Buckeyes will open their 2010 Big Ten schedule on the road vs. Illinois in what could potentially be a very lopsided matchup.

I for one would have bet a large sum of money that Illinois Coach Ron Zook would have been fired after the 2009 season. Amazingly however, Zook is still in charge (for now), and that doesn't bode well for Illini fans as the Zooker is just 21-39 in his five seasons at the helm.

In my opinion, anything short of seven-plus wins and a bowl game invite would mean 2010 will likely be his last in Champaign.

Once-heralded QB Juice Williams and WR Arrelious Benn are gone, and it looks as though redshirt freshmen Nathan Sheelhaase and Florida transfer Jarred Fayson will be asked to replace them each respectively.

Zook, who "coached" the Illini to a 30-0 shutout loss in Columbus last season, is 1-4 against Ohio State in his career—his lone win coming in Ohio Stadium during the 2007 season, in which he led Illinois to a 9-3 record and a trip to the Rose Bowl.

That 2007 season is a distant memory now though. Whether at home, or on the road, I believe it is safe to say that there won't be much fight coming out of the depleted "Fighting Illini" in 2010, especially against the top teams in the conference, i.e. Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin, etc.

Sorry Zooker, but your hot seat is about to explode...

Win (5-0)

Game Six vs. Indiana—October 9, 2010

The Buckeyes will open their 2010 Big Ten home schedule by hosting the Hoosiers of Indiana.

Ohio State leads the all-time series (66-12-5) and since 1991, the Buckeyes are a perfect 17-0 vs. IU.

Coach Tressel is 7-0, and his teams have outscored Indiana 255-71 in those meetings, but this ain't exactly your Daddy's' Indiana Hoosiers heading into 2010—well, at least not on offense.

Coach Bill Lynch and his Hoosiers can actually run the spread offense effectively, unlike Dickrod and company thus far in that state to our North that smells of boiled hot dog water (hey, maybe they should consider hiring Lynch after they fire RR?).

Offensively, they should be fine moving the ball, and they shouldn't have have much trouble scoring against most of the teams on their schedule. Senior QB Ben Chappell, who will be one of the best passers in the conference, has plenty of talented options surrounding him, including wide receivers Tandon Doss, Demarlo Belcher and Terrence Turner, as well as RB Darius Willis.

I suspect we will see a lot of what you see in this video around the 1:25 mark from Chappell and his receivers.

The problem for the Hoosiers will be their defense. Will they be able to hold on in a shootout and win some of their sure-to-be high-scoring, down-to-the-wire games in the final minutes? It's hard to say.

The Ohio State defense should be just as good as they were in 2009, while IU should be better on offense than they were last season. For that reason, I will be kind of shocked if IU doesn't score a couple-three times, but in the end, they won't be able to "out-shoot" the Buckeyes. I'm thinking 38-17 ballpark for the final score.

See you in Maize and Blue in 2011 Coach Lynch!

Win (6-0)

Game Seven @ Wisconsin—October 16, 2010

A year ago, Ohio State was almost completely anemic on offense, yet still defeated Wisconsin 31-13 with defense and special teams.

In what looks to be one of the Big Ten's best matchups of the upcoming season, the Buckeyes will need much more from their offense if they expect to win in Camp Randall.

The defense will also have their hands full though as Wisconsin returns 10 starters on offense including Scott Tolzien, one of the better quarterbacks in the conference, and star running back and reigning Big Ten player of the year, John Clay. Of course, the Buckeyes held Clay to only 59 yards on 20 carries last season, so he may or may not be a huge factor in the meeting this coming fall.

Along with new TE Lance Kendricks, who is replacing the departed Garrett Graham, wide receivers Nick Toon and David Gilreath are underappreciated targets that could give smaller, less experienced defenses fits down the field. Unfortunately for the Badgers, Ohio State is not small or inexperienced on defense.

The Badgers will have to prove that they can live up to high expectations really for the first time since A.D. and former head coach Barry Alverez stepped down. That is often easier said than done.

Also, Wisconsin has some concerns on defense that could make that task more difficult, specifically on the defensive front, as only one of four starters returns. The Buckeyes should be able to exploit the inexperienced line with their stable of talented running backs, not to mention their extremely fast and mobile quarterback, Terrelle Pryor.

Pryor, who was integral in helping the Buckeyes win in Madison in 2008, running in the game-winning touchdown in the final 70 seconds to break the hearts of Badger fans everywhere, will be seeking his third win over Wisconsin in as many tries.

The Buckeyes lead the all-time series (53-17-5). Overall, Coach Tressel is 4-3 against UW in his career and 3-0 against current Badger coach Brent Bielema.

Wisconsin is a dangerous team and I expect another closely contested game like the meeting in 2008. I do not take them lightly, nor do I project that winning this game will be easy.

Both teams have the talent on offense to win, but for me the coaching edge, and the defensive advantage favors the Buckeyes and as was the case in both 2008 and 2009, each of those factors (along with how well Pryor plays) will once again ultimately be what decides the outcome in 2010.

Win (7-0)

Game Eight vs. Purdue—October 23, 2010

Terrelle Pryor played one of the worst games of his career, as he and the entire Buckeye Nation completely overlooked Purdue in 2009.

The shocking 26-18 loss was 100% absolutely a fluke, but upsets happen when the clearly superior team loafs off and shows no sense of urgency.

I really don't mean to be sound overly insulting to Purdue here, but if we could load up everyone from each teams' 2009 roster into the hot tub time machine, go back to that day, and replay that game 1000 times, Purdue might win once or twice.

This year, the Boilermakers return WR Keith Smith and RB Ralph Bolden, both standouts, but must replace QB Joey Elliott, who statistically was one of the better signal callers in the Big Ten for 2009. That responsibility will fall on Caleb TerBush and Coach Danny Hope can only "hope" TerBush is ready for the job.

Purdue should be OK and maybe even decent on offense, but their defense will be the pitfall yet again in year two for Coach Hope. In 12 games last season, opponents gained over 170 yards per game on the ground and scored 26 touchdowns.

I look for the Buckeyes to not overlook Purdue in 2010, and to thus have a field day running the ball. Furthermore, I will not be shocked one bit if multiple players score touchdowns, and if more than one rushes for near or over 100 yards.

Ohio State is (37-13-2) all-time against Purdue and Coach Tressel is 5-2 (3-0 at home) vs. the Boilermakers, not to mention, Purdue hasn't won in Ohio Stadium since 1988.

I see that trend continuing.

Win (8-0)

Be sure to stop back—The third and final installment is coming soon!

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